Tag Archives: New York harbor

What Happened to the Native Peoples?

H.Hudson halfmoon

For the injustices against the native peoples and the land God provided here.

“Lord, have mercy.”

The native peoples are often forgotten in the story of the “discovery” of America. Our heroes tend to be the settlers who came on ships, built towns and cities, explored the land and gave us what we have today. But it came at a price.

If you ever visit New York harbor by way of the Staten Island Ferry look towards the various shores where once the native peoples fished, hunted and traded in large numbers. The water was fresher then, fish and shellfish plentiful, the air cleaner, the earth less damaged by human activity.

The National Museum of the American Indian is located in the old customs house across from Battery Park near the ferry. It’s a good place to remember the native peoples in the story of America. The Europeans traded with them; they were their guides into an unknown land; they provided many of the foods that fed growing populations in Europe and America. Their respect for the land was greater than those who came after them.

A young Indian woman, Kateri Tekakwitha and a Jesuit priest, Isaac Jogues, are figures to remember here. They represent the clash of civilizations that occurred when Europeans and native peoples met.

Europeans brought disease.  Smallpox  disfigured and partially blinded Kateri Tekakwitha, a young Mohawk woman who lived along the Mohawk River past Albany, NY. The native peoples had no immunity to small pox and other diseases. Three out of ten died from it. By some estimates 5 million native people lived in North America when the first Europeans arrived. Within a hundred years there were only 500,000. Besides disease, the major cause of their diminishment, the native peoples also suffered from wars and greed.
Museum of American Indian

 

At the museum, besides Kateri Tekakwitha remember Father Isaac Jogues, the Jesuit missionary who, while attempting to advance peace-keeping efforts with the Mohawks at Ossernonon (Auriesville) was killed by a war party on October 18, 1646. Previously, in 1642  Jogues had been captured by this same tribe. He escaped in 1643, fled here to New Amsterdam (New York City) and then was put on a ship for France by a kindly Dutch minister.

The French missionaries came to the New World out of the turmoils of the Old World expecting a new Pentecost among the native peoples here, but it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, disease and political maneuvering made the native peoples suspicious of  foreigners and the seed of the gospel fell on hard ground.

Letters back to France from the early Jesuits–marvelously preserved in “The Jesuit Relations”–often express the missionaries’ disappointment  over their scarce harvest, but it didn’t stop them. They were well grounded in the mystery of the Cross.

The Indian woman and the priest persevered. We forget how difficult it is when civilizations clash– like now.

 

New York Harbor

Container

I went on a boat trip on Sunday into New York harbor, one of my favorite places. We followed a giant container ship from Singapore under the Verrazano Bridge.

Indian tribes were the first here to fish and to trade. The Dutch and the English followed them. It’s a great harbor with a great history. The fishing’s gone, unfortunately, and I wonder what happened to the Indians? Their story never seems to be told.

Indian fishing

Indian fishing

The Hudson River reaching north was a trading dream. Early on, furs and timber and raw materials were brought here from the interior to be shipped all over the world. The Eire Cana only increased the river’s reach.

liberty stat - Version 2Millions of immigrants, looking for work and a place to live, sailed into this harbor from distant places. The sign welcoming them, the Statue of Liberty, and the place where many of them were processed, Ellis Island, are on the left of the harbor as you come through the Narrows from the open sea.

Many of our ancestors, my own included, first saw the New World here. Many never left the area. On a recent TV program on Italian immigration, the question was asked “Why did so many Italians choose to live in New York City and New Jersey?” “That’s where the work was, “ someone said. My ancestors–Irish and Swedes– chose to live and work here too. Skyline medium

Skyline close

As you look at the impressive skyline of New York, look also to Brooklyn on the right and Jersey City and Bayonne on the left, Staten Island behind you. Those places were where the immigrants who built the city lived–and still do.

Quarentine station, staten island,

Quarentine station, staten island,

The Quarantine Station built in 1799 by Doctor Richard Bayley, father of St. Elizabeth Seton, was located near Stapleton on Staten Island, just south of the Staten Island Ferry terminal at St. George. Passengers with infectious diseases like small pox, cholera or yellow fever were detained and treated there, and sometimes returned to their own countries.

In the summer of 1801, Elizabeth Seton was staying with her father at the quarantine station when a boatload of sick Irish immigrants were brought in. She describes what poorer immigrants faced coming here:

“I cannot sleep–the dying and the dead possess my mind. Babies perishing at the empty breast of the expiring mother…Father says such was never known before: twelve children must die for want of sustenance…parents deprived of it as they have lain for many days ill in a ship without food or air or changing…There are tents pitched over the yard of the convalescent house and a large one at the death house.” (Letter July 28, 1801)

That same year, Richard Bayley died from yellow fever contacted while caring for a boatload of Irish immigrants at the Quarantine Station. He’s buried in the family plot next to the Episcopal Church of St. Andrew in Richmond, Staten Island.

Too bad no remains of the quarantine station are left to remind us how difficult an immigrant’s journey could be. There’s no quarantine station in the harbor now; sick immigrants and travelers go to nearby hospitals, as far as I know.

People in ancient times looked at travel over the uncertain sea as a perilous challenge. You never knew when you would arrive or the welcome you would get. No cruise ships then to make the journey a pleasure. An anchor was the sign the ancients used to symbolize their arrival, safely reaching port. Some ancient Mediterranean seaports like Alexandria and Antioch adopted the anchor as a symbol of their city.

Early Christians used this same sign on the burial places of their dead to symbolize their hope in Jesus Christ. The anchor closely resembles a cross. Jesus would bring them safely home, to harbor, to the New Jerusalem.

Visiting Elizabeth Seton’s New York

Twelve of us from St. Mary’s Parish, Colts Neck, NJ, visited Elizabeth Seton’s New York yesterday. We took the 10 AM boat from Atlantic Highlands for pier 11 in downtown New York City and walked to St. Elizabeth Seton’s shrine and home on State Street nearby.

One of New York City’s distinguished citizens, she was born in 1774, a couple years before the American Revolution.  She’s also the first American saint to be honored by the Catholic Church.

Our first stop was a colonial house and a shrine near the ferry terminal at the end of Manhattan Island where Elizabeth Seton and her family lived for a short time. Most of her New York years were lived in this old section of the city.

Approaching Manhattan through New York harbor let’s you see the city as the earliest European explorers saw it. The island is the gem at the harbor’s center; on its left the Hudson River flows to the north, on its right the East River flows out to the coast.

In 1524 Giovanni Verranzano came upon New York harbor–he thought it was a lake– searching for a passage to the Pacific. The Verranzano Bridge stands at the entrance to the harbor today.

In 1609 Henry Hudson, exploring for the Dutch, sailed into the harbor and then up as far as Albany on the river that now bears his name.  The Dutch realized how valuable this place was and made a small settlement on the island. They called their trading post New Amsterdam and traded with the many Indian tribes here and along the Hudson River. Before any Europeans came, numerous Indian tribes fished, hunted and traded here.

The English had their eyes on the place too and in 1642 took it over. New Amsterdam became New York, and it was under English control till the American Revolution in 1776.

Millions of immigrants have come through New York harbor since then. This was their gateway to the new world.  Through the harbor, this country also traded the new world’s resources with the rest of the world.

We began our tour of Elizabeth Seton’s New York here because she and her family were closely connected to the harbor. Her husband, William Seton, invested in the ships that made New York one of the richest ports in the world.  But ships were a risky investment; they brought handsome profits but they could also bring bankruptcy if they didn’t come in. The Setons experienced both.

William Seton was one of Wall Street’s first venture capitalists. In 1801 the Seton’s went bankrupt after the loss of a ship at sea and the family moved to the rented house on State Street, our first stop on our tour.

Elizabeth Seton’s father, Doctor Richard Bayley, was the first Health Officer for the port of New York; (1796) he dealt with many of the first immigrants and travellers passing through here.

His job was to keep New York City safe from disease, and one of his tasks was to keep travellers who were dangerous health threats isolated. So, quarantine stations were set up for immigrants with yellow fever, cholera and small pox.

On our way through the harbor we saw some of the harbor’s early quarantine stations at Bedloe’s Island (1758-1796), Governor’s Island (1796-1799), Thomkinsville in Staten Island (1799-1858), just south of the St. George ferry station.

In the summer of 1801, Elizabeth was staying with her father at the Thomkinsville quarantine station when a boatload of sick Irish immigrants were brought in. She describes the dreadful conditions in a letter:

“I cannot sleep–the dying and the dead possess my mind. Babies perishing at the empty breast of the expiring mother…Father says such was never known before: twelve children  must die for want of sustenance…parents deprived of it as they have lain for many days ill in a ship without food or air or changing…There are tents pitched over the yard of the convalescent house and a large one at the death house.” (Letter July 28, 1801)

That same year, Richard Bayley died from yellow fever contacted while caring for a boatload of Irish immigrants off Thomkinsville. He’s buried in the family plot next to the Episcopal Church of St. Andrew in Richmond, Staten Island.

From Mother Seton’s shrine and house on State Street we walked to Trinity Church and then St. Paul’s Chapel, the Anglican parish she belonged to until her conversion to Catholicism in 1805. She lived her early years as a happily married woman with five children on Wall Street and Stone Street, close by these colonial churches.

As a devout Anglican, Elizabeth devoted herself to her family and to the poor. In 1797 she and other public-spirited church women began an aid society for destitute women and their children. “The poor increase fast: immigrants from all quarters come to us. And when they come to us they must not be allowed to die.” (Description of the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows and Small Children.)

Looking eastward down Wall Street from Trinity Church on Broadway , you can see many of the founding institutions of America: the docks and slave market (no longer visible) on the East River  the New York Stock Exchange and the Federal building, a short walk from Broadway, and finally Trinity Church and King’s College on the western side of Manhattan. King’s College built on lands belonging to Trinity Church became Columbia University after the Revolutionary War, and later relocated in northern Manhattan.

Our final stop on our visit to Elizabeth Seton’s New York was St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Barclay Street, near to World Trade Center. Here she was received into the Catholic Church.

In June 1808, she left New York City with her family for Baltimore, where she founded a school on Paca Street, the beginning of the Catholic parochial schools system in the United States. Shortly after, Mother Seton moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland, where other women gathered around her and took vows as the Sisters of Charity. Her religious followers continued her work through schools, orphanages and hospitals found throughout the United States.

Mother Seton died at the age of 46 in 1821. She was canonized on September 14,1975

Yesterday, from St. Peter’s Church we walked to Broadway and then down Wall Street to catch the 3 PM ferry for the Atlantic Highlands.